A special night for Steelers legends

The words they chose to use were ones that spoke of what it truly meant to them.

Honored. Humbled. Excited. Tickled. Grateful.

They were words that came from the heart, a heart that will forever bleed black and gold for the men who were honored on Saturday night as the newest members of the Steelers Hall of Honor.

This year the Steelers inducted two classes into the Hall of Honor, the Class of 2020 and 2021. The members of both classes are spread out over decades, but there is one thing they all have in common – their impact on the Steelers was invaluable.

The Steelers legends who are a part of the Hall of Honor Class of 2020 include James Farrior, Greg Lloyd, Troy Polamalu, Mike Wagner and Dwight White, while those in the Hall of Honor Class of 2021 include Tunch Ilkin, Jon Kolb, Carnell Lake and Louis Lipps.

"This is a tremendous honor," said Wagner, the safety who played from 1971-80. "It's a great way for the community and Steelers to recognize what some of the players have done over the years. I'm honored when I see some of the names out there, some of the greatest football players of all time, not just the Steelers, and to be a part of that is special."

Lloyd, someone who cared more about sacks and hits than honors during his career, was thrilled when he learned he was selected to the Hall of Honor and still feels that excitement.

"To be one of the guys chosen to be in the Hall of Honor, it tickles me," said Lloyd, a linebacker from 1987-97. "But it's the group of guys around you that help you earn something like this. The guys I played with helped me take my game to another level. They are responsible for me being in the Hall of Honor and I will probably be responsible for them being in the Hall of Honor one day."

For Lake, who not only played for the Steelers but also went on to be an assistant coach, seeing his name in the Hall of Honor display at Heinz Field is something that truly touched him.

"I don't think it's going to sink in for a while," said Lake. "When I look at the names on the list, and I think about the Steelers history, the legends that have played there, it's a little overwhelming. You go back to Joe Greene, Chuck Noll, everybody who really put the Steelers on the map. And then I think my name is hanging on the wall with some of these guys. I almost think did I do enough. It's really an honor."

The team introduced the Hall of Honor in 2017, an idea that came from Steelers President Art Rooney II, along with late Chairman Dan Rooney. The Hall of Honor was established to recognize former players, coaches, and front office personnel who played an integral role in the success of the franchise, from the beginning in 1933 until now. To be considered, a player must be retired at least three years and played a minimum of three seasons for the Steelers. Former coaches and contributors had to make significant contributions to the team and community.

This year the fourth and fifth classes were enshrined together after the pandemic delayed the Class of 2020 enshrinement.

For Farrior, it was worth the wait.

"It still feels surreal for me," said Farrior. "It's something I didn't expect. When you play the game, you play it hard and the best that you can. You don't really have time to think about it. I have had time to reflect on my whole career. My years in Pittsburgh were pretty amazing. I had a great time there. All the great memories from the teams that I played on. I am not accepting this honor alone. I am accepting it with my teammates, they know who they are. I can't even begin to name all of the names. I would forget some and be upset about it."

After seeing the Hall of Honor display with their families in the FedEx Great Hall, the group of enshrinees enjoyed a private event where they had the opportunity to mingle with each other, as well as former teammates who came to honor them as well.

"We have had some of these reunions over the years that overlapped the younger teams and it's great," said Wagner. "The alumni from the Steelers and getting together with the younger players, even the current ones, is always a treat. It is something you treasure. People will ask me how Steelers fans treat us. I tell them they treat us like a treasure. We're their treasure. We're the ones that made their days many, many times. It was our job to win football games, but to see fan's eyes sparkle when they realize you are a former Steeler, it's one of the greatest feelings in the world."

The Pittsburgh Steelers celebrated the 2020 and 2021 Hall of Honor classes at Heinz Field during the Hall of Honor induction presented by U.S. Steel

Hanging out with their former teammates, and fellow Steelers legends, you could also tell was one of the greatest feelings in the world for all of them.

"It's one big fraternity," said Farrior. "All the guys from back in the day that played, the Steelers do a great job of keeping everyone connected. I think over the years all the different generations have stayed connected and been in touch. It's a pleasure to see some of the older guys and some of your teammates.

"We love getting back together and sharing the memories. A lot of the guys have championship memories, a lot of big games that we can talk about. Everybody talks about their families and everything. It's one big family and one big family reunion."

Lake said it felt good to go in with the group, so many of them he has a personal connection with.

"It's always been a special bond to be around the guys and talk football," said Lake. "One thing I can say about the Steelers organization is there have been a lot of good, outstanding guys on and off the field. They have always been willing to share their stories and that leads to great conversations. I don't think that happens enough for me. When it does happen, it's really special."

After spending time together, the official program began, which was hosted by Merril Hoge inside the UPMC Club at Heinz Field.

Each of the enshrinees, with the exception of Louis Lipps and Troy Polamalu who were unable to attend, were enshrined individually and Steelers President Art Rooney II presented each of them with a solid steel football, which will replicate the original one that was given to Steelers' founder Arthur J. Rooney Sr. by the United States Steel Corporation and United Steel Workers in 1982 for the team's 50th Season.

The emotions ran high when Karen White, the wife of the late Dwight White, and their daughter Stacey White Jones, accepted on his behalf, while Karen Ilkin, and his three kids Tanner, Natalie Coale and Clay, accepted on his behalf. Both of the wives spoke of their husbands, their words touching many and talking about the brotherhood that is the Steelers.

"I wish they could have been here for this," said Kolb.

His sentiments were shared by all.

* * *

The members of the Hall of Honor will also be honored at halftime of Sunday's Steelers game against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field.

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